I was browsing conservative blog Brussels Journal and ran across this charming movie review which claimed a 1945 movie I Know Where I'm Going for, of all things, conservatism.
When, a semester or two ago, my department chair asked me to teach the local version of the nowadays-pervasive "popular culture" course, I consented with some mild misgivings and, as I like to do, took a mostly historical approach to course-content. I have no investment in contemporary popular culture, the wretchedness of it striking me as consummate. My students, for their part, being morbidly, continuously immersed in contemporary popular culture, require no one, really, to acquaint them with it. At least they require no one to tutor them in it directly, since it regrettably is their ubiquitous and hortatory guide and cue-giver for all facets of life. But one might apprise them about the insipidity of existing mass-entertainment indirectly by putting it in contrast with the popular entertainments of the past, including the classic films that most of them have never seen and, more importantly, would never seek out on their own....another one was the Roger Livesey/Wendy Hiller vehicle I Know Where I'm Going (1945), directed by Michael Powell (1905-1990).
I took the review's advice and being curious ordered up the movie from Netflix. I just watched it. The advice was good. — definitely worth watching.
The gist of the movie is simple: girl is engaged to be married, girl meets new boy, girl throws over fiancee, girl and boy live happily ever after. The review's own charm is a reflection of the movie's; it's mostly romance of course but with a dash of adventure (dangerous seas) and humor (a lovable colonel Blimp-type and his lost eagle). The scenery, even in B&W is gorgeous. The political line, supposedly, is that a superficial young woman forgoes marriage to rich industrialist in favor of love with Scottish laird and in the course learns to appreciate Scottish landscape and country ways. The reviewer tell us that the movie offers a
contrast between the superciliousness of the city-dwellers, who merely rusticate for a season in "the isles," while spending money prodigiously, and the laconic generosity and happy frugality of the locals.
The movie does indeed make points along those lines. But it also observes that while frugality is admirable, money is nice too; you just have to put it in perspective and as one character says profoundly, money isn't everything. That is hardly a "conservative" view but just the advice given by sensible parents everywhere.
So then, why is the movie characterized as "conservative?" Beats me. The reviewer never explains. Never really even tries to explain. He assumes, I guess, that it must be obvious, Well it isn't. The movie could as well, with just the slightest shift of perspective, be communist cant showing the superficiality and corruption of bourgeois values and the commonsense honesty of "the people" etc etc
Or the movie could be espousing obviously liberal values: appreciation of nature, respect for merit through competence and courage, the necessity to be true to thine own self and not to external trappings, tolerance for others, historic and cultural preservation, distaste for cheap "shopping mall" culture etc etc
To characterize this fine movie as "conservative" is a distortion and a self-limiting view of others' values. And it's an odd claim to make in 2009 — as if the people who brought us the Iraq War, still bleeding everyone, can claim commonsense, frugality much less and practicality. Conservatives can not even remotely claim this movie for themselves. They cannot and in these dangerous times, they should not. In fact it is absurd for modern conservatism (as we understand it in the USA) to believe that this movie represents its values. Sarah Palin? (What a nutty idea to see Sarah Palin as standing for the values of IKWIG.) Individual conservatives might do so — but I would assume those folks are simply misidentified liberals, good folks who just wandered into the wrong tent and will soon realize that they must move.